Smyrna: The Poor Church that was actually Rich, Part 2

Revelation 2:8-11 (Link)

Many find the letter to the Church at Smyrna odd because the church is neither commended nor criticized. This is due to the fact that persecution limited their ministry. Persecution also purged the temptation to compromise with false teaching. 

“Christ values his Churches according to what they are, as well as according to what they do. If their trials are such that all they can do is to bear them, and to wait God’s own time—well.” (see Pulpit Commentary on Revelation, Kindle edition, below.)

The Church was maintaining the body of Christ in Smyrna until better days came when they could expand through public proclamation of the Gospel. This is commendable  when it is the only option available.

smelting_furnace.jpg

A smelting furnace; often used in scripture as an image of refining by testing. (Wikimedia)

God tests us as Christians ultimately in order to bless us vs. 10

10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Persecution happened to Smyrna in order to test them. The Greek word for test is peirazō. It can mean both “to try” and “to tempt.” (See Peirazō below.) Both God and Satan are said to be ones who try people.

There is a difference in the purpose for the trials —

(1) Satan tempts in order to bring out evil in us;
(2) God tests in order to bring out good in us. (see figure below).

Different Senses of Peirazo

God never leads us into sin. Satan does when he pushes us to act beyond God’s will and purpose.

I Corinthians 10:13 states — No temptation (peirasmos) has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.  (emphasis mine)

Imprisonment of various kinds are Satan’s tool to turn Christians from Christ. 

Today, Christians in various dictatorships are being imprisoned for their faith in Christ. We know Satan is behind this since the form of prison being used is insidious. It insures they are tormented by it even after release.

“A woman from am Asian province, was released in February after five years of inhumane prison life, leaving her with extreme physical and mental trauma. She is emaciated, with a sallow face and protruding cheekbones.

“She was arrested in 2014 for being a member of a banned Christian new religious movement that is included in the list of the xie jiao (literally, “heterodox teachings”). To force her to provide information about the Church, she was subjected to a torture technique called ‘exhausting an eagle’ — sleep deprivation, controlled food provision, and [mind altering] drugs slipped into her drinking water. ‘I hallucinated, as well — terrible images of being arrested and tortured kept flashing in my mind,’ the believer said bitterly, recalling her ordeal.

“That water was different from usual. It was a bit yellowish. On the evening that I drank it, I felt totally dazed and disoriented, and even suffered urinary incontinence,” the woman said. Later, guards forcibly dragged her into the infirmary. Without asking about any of her symptoms, the doctor gave her an injection.

“After receiving the injection, I felt like I couldn’t remember anything, and I felt very scared. A teaching assistant kept trying to lure me, saying, ‘Hurry and sign the three statements [a statement of repentance, a statement of guarantee, and a statement breaking off ties with the Church]. You won’t have to suffer any more after signing them.’

Due to the toxicity of the psychotropic drugs, her memory has severely deteriorated. She is unable to recall many details about the persecution she endured. Even the slightest movements scare her, and, at night, she is often startled awake by nightmares.” (see Bitter Winter below.)

We need to pray for the persecuted Church all over the world. Hebrews 13:3 — Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. See the following links below for sources for prayer — Open Doors USA and Bitter Winter.

God limits suffering to keep His church safe.

You will suffer persecution for ten days. Again John uses the word thlipsis (tribulation). “Ten days” is a symbol for short but definite period of time. The basis is Daniel 1:11-13 —

11 Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” [emphasis mine; see ESV below].

I will give you the crown of life. “Crown” is the Greek word stephanos which is “a victor’s crown,” not a king’s crown (diadema).

Greek Crowns

Around the crest of Mt. Pagos was a large circle of buildings called the “crown of Smyrna.” Christians excluded from the crown of Smyrna will receive the crown of life. Don’t think of people wearing literal crowns in heaven. The words refer to a spiritual reality and not to a physical reality. Life will “crown” us forever.

Faithful Christians need never fear death vs. 11

11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.

(See the post on the Letter to Ephesus for explanation of the first part of this verse.)

Death is the separation of the body and soul. The second death is the separation of body and soul from God forever. Believers need never fear physical death in this world. Read I Corinthians 15:50-58 for great assurance. (click on the link to read in a new window).

James Prince LeeRt. Revd James Prince Lee (1804-1869; pictured left) was headmaster of King Edward’s School, Birmingham. His most famous pupils were J. B. Lightfoot and B. F Westcott, both Bishops of Durham, England. Lee was made the first Bishop of Manchester (see Lee below).

Bishop B. F. Westcott relates the epitaph on Bishop Lee’s tombstone —  “The single word upon his tomb is, I think, unsurpassed as a confession of triumphant, I would almost say, proud faith: Σαλπìσει” (“The trumpet shall sound”). (see Westcott; p. 28, below). This word is a reference to I Corinthians 15:52.

Motivational speakers often quote a businessman, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” We as Christians are in that position. We must always remember that no matter what may occur to us in our life on earth, our Lord will raise us at the last Day. What a rich hope!

Application Chart

Smyrna Graph

Image of the risen Christ to Smyrna — the First and the Last. Obviously this means that he exists before time and will be unchanged at the end of time. However, we ought not to forget the Risen Christ is previous to our trials and with us all along the way and will be at the end after our trial is over. Psalm 1:6 speaks to His care of us in trial. Christ knows the way of the righteous!

No complacency: There is no rebuke for a church in trial who is not accomplishing much in ministry from an outward standpoint. Instead of rebuke for complacency, there is the assurance of Christ with us and watching over us. 

Poor in this world’s goods but rich: God commends those who are rich in spiritual things. During trial and persecution, God is pleased with us when we deepen out walk with Him. He promises us life with Him in victory in heaven after our struggles are finished. The price of such faithfulness is not that of defeat, but of victory! Not all die for the faith, but all maintain the church for the future.

No complicity with false religion wedded to the state: The Risen Christ show us the worse Satan has planned for us — imprisonment, torture, etc. Satan cannot do anything but by God’s permission. None of what Christ actually permits compares with the glory of heaven that awaits us!

As a wartime Prime Minister of Britain said, “The outlook is bleak; we need to try the upward look. Let’s pray.” He then led the cabinet in prayer. Satan has Smyrna-Christians hemmed in on all sides. Satan is not able to roof us over. Let us take hold of God in prayer when no outward work is possible. 

Next time, the Letter to Pergamos.

Notes

ESV. Accessed from https://www.biblegateway.com/

Lee, James Prince. Article from Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 32. Accessed February 1, 2019 from https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Lee,_James_Prince_(DNB00)

Lee, James Prince. FindaGrave listing accessed February 6, 2019 from https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/186587082/james-prince-lee

Peirazō. (2018). Accessed June 10. 2019 from https://biblehub.com/greek/3985.htm

Pulpit Commentary on Revelation. (1890). Accessed June 6, 2019 from Kindle Reader, location 95590.

Westcott, Arthur. (1903). Life and letters of Brooke Foss Westcott, D.D., D.C.L., sometime Bishop of Durham, Vol. I. Accessed February 1, 2019 from https://archive.org/details/brookefosswestco00westuoft/page/28

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

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